Bum Deal

Despite the best efforts of director and cast, locally-written Deelmayker just doesn’t deliver the goods

There's a stage full of talent in the Invisible Theatre's world premiere of Deelmayker, by Tucsonan Warren Bodow, but the problem is with the play. Unfortunately, it's a clunky mess, full of implausible actions, ill-defined characters and a plot line that is often just plain confusing. It's a credit to director Susan Claassen that she was able to make enough sense out of it to get it up on its feet and make it at least a bit of fun—say, the way watching a TV sitcom is fun. If this were a pilot, though, I don't think any network would pick it up.

Producing new plays is a noble, worthwhile endeavor, but it's hard to tell if a new work up to task is until it's given legs. For Deelmayker, the verdict is clear here: this play is not yet ready for prime time.

The premise is interesting enough. Bernie Harris (Jack Neubeck) has made millions for himself and others by brokering media sales. He's bartered with the best and has built quite a reputation. Despite his success, Bernie is finding himself, on the cusp of 65, a bit of a dinosaur. He sits in his home office in Palm Springs with a blank calendar on the wall. His colleagues are dyimg regularly, making him feel that he's a relic. In short, he's a workaholic with no work, and he is definitely feeling the symptoms of withdrawal.

His wife, Anne (Kathleen Erickson), seems to have grown impatient with him, although it's hard to see why. He seems pretty harmless, maybe a bit distracted, but certainly not depressed as she describes him. Anne and Bernie's visiting sister Harriet (Kylie Arnold) don't get along, and although it's never made clear how their feud started, the pair does clash.

At a coffee shop, Bernie ends up at a table with a young woman (Ellie Boyles), chatting about doing what you love versus finding a job that makes money. Then Bernie gets wind of a deal in the making: a 29-year-old man who cannot pronounce his "l's" is hoping to sell his radiofun.com biz. Bernie wants to broker that deal. The young man, Emory (Sean Dupont), doesn't think Bernie has what it takes, but his mother has some sort of vague past with Bernie and makes her son promise to check him out.

So, that's the lay of the land. Bodrow sets up a pretty complex situation, and when he tries to pull all of this together, what results is a morass of implausible events happening so quickly your head spins while trying to figure out what in the world has happened. In the space of just a few minutes, Anne, who we have seen interacting with Bernie for, oh, maybe three minutes total, confesses she has had an affair. He seems shocked, but not deeply. She then says that Bernie's the only man for her (how or why she's changed her mind is not addressed at all), and all seems OK with befuddled Bernie. This is some pretty heavy stuff, and it all happens without due preparation or impact.

That's not all. The young man appears at Bernie's house to discuss the deal, along with the young coffee shop woman for some reason. Apparently, she thinks she can help Emory speak like an adult. There's some talk of logging in Wisconsin, which Bernie has discovered has some bearing on this deal. Emory, with his new found ability to say "l's," decides he's going to go with the big players and not Bernie. Somehow out of this chaos Bernie has discovered a new calling: he will now be a consultant.

Still, the play has more in store. Anne has arranged for her amd her husband to go on a trip to Europe (although Bernie does not fly) to rekindle some flame that is referenced but never really shown between them.

Just because a play's a comedy—and this is a modestly funny one—doesn't mean that the basics of playwriting can be disregarded. The story has to be plausible, with the playwright giving us enough information for what we see to make sense rather than simply inserting a line to justify a plot point. Characters need to be clearly drawn and integral to the story.

Erickson, too long absent from Tucson stages, deserves an award for taking a horribly underwritten character and making her actions seem somewhat credible. The playwright seems to want her relationship with Bernie to be important, without giving the pair time to interact or hash it out.

The sets are always impressive at IT, making that tiny stage seem much bigger than it is. There is a bit of an issue here because this play calls for scenes in the coffee shop as well as Bernie's home. It's a bit tricky and sight lines for that sparse setting aren't the best, but it works well enough.

Claassen and company do their best to make the story come alive. Neubeck is charming, Arnold gives us some laughs and the young folks are fine. Unfortunately, their collective efforts can't make the play more than it is. Deelmayker isn't a bad idea, just not developed cleanly and clearly enough to get the deal done.

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